Sasha’s Bloc, the renowned Los Angeles based jazz collective recently responsible for two of the best modern jazz albums of the last twenty years, with members of the legendary vocal group Take 6 in tow, ventured to Hollywood’s famous Capitol Records recording studios for the creation of their latest cut. The original composition “Runaway Blues” is a thoughtful and often surprisingly poetic reflection on the vagaries of love, life, and facing our personal truths. It fuses a number of musical influences into a larger whole – gospel, jazz, and blues mix easily in the hands of such highly skilled musicians. Most importantly, no one involved here, instrumentally or vocally, overdoes their respective parts. The approach retains immense tastefulness throughout but remains emotionally affecting. While everyone involved in this song are technically superb musicians, they never fail to play with the ever-mysterious feel that material like this demands.
The Grammy awarded vocal ensemble Take 6 joins the band for this song and one of their chief singers, Alvin Chea, does a commendable job taking over the lead vocals on this track. His phrasing is one of the song’s highlights. Chea coaxes each syllable from the lines with great care in order to better convey the song’s internal narrative and his willingness to exercise such patience weaves a dramatic spell for the listener. This sort of considered approach isn’t surprising from a twenty plus year veteran performer, but it goes beyond have the experience to make wise artistic decision. Chea’s talents are the guiding force that shapes his performance and they fan the song’s flames to help it burn ever brighter.
The musical highlight comes with the introduction of the brass section in the song’s second half. It contrasts well with Chea’s singing, the multi-part vocal harmonies, and tapestry of sound that Sasha’s Bloc has conjured up to this point. The chorus is, undoubtedly, the composition’s most stirring moment, but it once again achieves its distinction largely from the band’s sharp-minded refusal to overplay. It feels like a natural crescendo in the song rather than some contrived moment pandering to listeners. The rhythm section work plays a significant role in managing the song’s dynamics while the piano and an additional sprinkling of keyboards does an excellent job of evolving the song’s melody.
Sasha’s Bloc have taken a calculated risk with the new song that’s paid off well. Their turn away from the jazz/big band sound dominating their first two full length albums towards other traditional forms of American music like gospel and jazz has a refreshing effect on their sound without ever sacrificing any of their identity. Alexander Gershman, bassist and bandleader, has led Sasha’s Bloc to another pinnacle in their brief existence, but he’s wisely surrounded himself with a group of musicians more than capable of helping realize his musical ambitions. “Runaway Blues” is their finest work yet, in some ways, and certainly offers up evidence of a brilliant future.